The very best way for Mary Ruth Hord to mark a milestone started with a simple trip to the bank.

She needed a big stack of small bills, plenty of postcards and a lot of envelopes.

“The (teller) must have thought I was weird when I went in and asked for so many $20s,” Hord said.

When she got home, she got to work.

Hord sorted the cash into 90 piles of $90 each and stuffed them into 90 envelopes along with a simple and elegant note.

“May 4th, 2020 will be my 90th birthday. Please help me celebrate by using the enclosed $90 to help someone in need,” she wrote.

Who could say no to such a sweet request?

From idea to action

The idea to celebrate in such a generous way didn’t sprout up overnight. It took awhile to germinate.

Through time, her approach to gift giving (and celebrations) had evolved. Traditional presents gave way in some instances to such things as planting a tree or a donation in someone’s honor.

And with a milestone looming — a lot of us make special note of the ones that end with a zero — in 2020, she began giving some thought to how she’d like hers to go.

“It’s a big number to get to 90,” she said. “So I thought about finding 90 people through church, my choir, family, neighbors and friends.”

She’s got plenty of those. And so an idea resulted in action.

In March, before the coronavirus pandemic turned into an all-encompassing, 24/7 daily reality, envelopes filled with cash, a note and a small self-addressed postcard — stamp included — started going out.

“The Who? What? Where? And How Much are your choice,” the note read. “My only request is that you use the enclosed card … to let me know how your gift was used. That will bring me great joy.

“Thank you for helping me celebrate.”

Then, as we all know now, daily life was upended in unprecedented and shocking ways. Restaurants and bars were shuttered, followed quickly by stay-at-home orders. Many in the community — neighbors, friends and acquaintances — soon would need a hand whether they’d ask for one or not.

‘Amazing things’

Once they got over the pleasant surprise of being asked to celebrate a birthday in such a nice way, different recipients opted for different ways to honor the request.

Some chose to donate to any number of worthy causes.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, Cancer Services Inc., Family Services of Forsyth County, there is no shortage of honorable organizations doing God’s work.

Other recipients reached out to their friends and family to locate individuals who’d been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

And many of them decided to meet, match or add to the gift.

“It just kind of mushroomed,” Hord said.

At first, she was hesitant to talk about her birthday gift and insisted she not be photographed. Her celebration was always about people having a rough go, but she relented when she saw how far her idea had spread and realized that it might inspire others to do something similar.

“Amazing things were done,” Hord said, “for people who’d lost jobs, families with hungry children, families struggling after a loved one had been deported.”

Sheryl Wells, one of Hord’s 90, used her envelope — and some on top of that — to purchase a grocery gift card for a family she’d learned about through her own circle.

“What a gift that was for me,” Wells said. “It’s so very inspiring.”

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